Lady Bexbury! Enchanted! Maurice showed her in to his workroom, dusted off a chair so that she might sit, and went to the door to call for tea.
Once this had been served, and he was perched upon the stool by his bench, she asked how he found Mr MacDonald.
Why, 'tis clear that he is a fellow of considerable apprehension: but, is he not some kind of severe Evangelickal?
Lady Bexbury spluttered tea. Indeed not, she said with a mirthful expression, is quite entirely a freethinker and a utilitarian philosopher. But indeed he can manifest a certain severity of manner, especially with those he knows not well, 'tis a form of shyness. But he already comes at ways we might pursue this little matter of yours, indeed that is most particular why I came to see you today.
Not to start preparing your wardrobe for the Season?
Alas, Maurice, I hope you will not cast me out of doors for telling you, but I purpose go to Madame Francine about the business –
Maurice stared, and then said with a laugh, La, Lady Bexbury, you go as a spy?
So I do, and I should be glad could you give me some notions as to how to behave as a very exacting lady that will never be satisfied and will say, 'tis still not right, and, might the trim not be in a different shade? and keep coming back but never finding the thing entire to her liking?
Maurice laughed. Why, I may make some suggestions, but do you think on Lady Trembourne, I am persuaded you would have a fine example. I was never happier than when she decided we did not come up to her standards.
Ha, the Unfair Rosamund, indeed she is quite the pattern I would look for, never, ever, contented in anything. But, dear Maurice, though I shall not be coming for fittings, you have my mannequin, do you not, and may make up my gowns? I would not have you be a loser by this stratagem. 'Twould not seem at all particular did Sophy come call upon you from time to time to see how they did.
Might well be supposed that Sophy would come out of family feeling to commiserate upon my losing your custom, and mayhap gossip upon the matter, and to convoke as to how you might be brought about to be persuaded back, 'tis a good thought. Or even perchance that it must be coming around the time young Thomasina should be prenticed and she looks about for a good place.
Lady Bexbury sighed and rose from the chair. Seems like yesterday that she came and placed Thomasina in dear Docket’s arms and begged her to stand godmother, and Docket wept.
'Twas a most uncommon occurrence!
But I should leave you now, and you must go grumble upon me and the fickle ways of ladies.
Sure, Lady Bexbury, you should go write plays!
But he went into the workroom, and acted the necessary comedy, and one or two of the newer hands showed some disposition to giggle until kicked by their next neighbours, that had grown quite entire accustomed to Mr Maurice’s ways.
Then next day came his dear coz Tibby, that had done so well for herself, and handed him passes for Titus’ next recital, and said that she purposed go stand treat in the workroom, showing him the packages of fine pastries she had brought with her – a practice of hers these several years, whereby she could pick up notions for her writings on fashion in The Intelligencer, 'twould not seem at all particular did she so – and would see what gossip she might glean.
He looked at her and said, he confided 'twas not the first time she had done the like.
Tibby laughed and said, sure, began when she was still with Lady Bexbury, one hears things, may be most useful.
Did you ever come across this fellow MacDonald?
Tibby gave a girlish giggle most unsuited to her present age and standing and said, Was one Christmastide when Euphemia and I were still careless giddy girls, and there had been a matter of a wassail-bowl that was stronger liquor than we were used to, and we waylaid him under the kissing bunch. For he was quite the prettiest fellow – indeed, is still very well-looking, do you not think so? – but o, the scold we got from Hector! We were most exceeding mortified. But he took the matter most civil. Has been an intimate of Her Ladyship’s household these many years, indeed, since before her elevation.
Also, she went on, 'twas he that uncovered that Prue needed spectacles, made quite an immense difference. Sure 'twixt 'em, he and Her Ladyship can see further through a brick wall than most. Can any come at what is afoot here, must be the two of 'em.
Sure you give him an excellent character!
Why, has ever been quite the finest of friends to Her Ladyship. But I will go gossip – making sure that all have put their work aside afore they begin upon these fine cakes that Euphemia put up for me.
Do you bring Euphemia’s cakes I could quite envy 'em!
Tibby left the room and Maurice went back to sketching out designs. But though one could conceal designs, lock them away in hidden drawers, once the work was in hand, 'twas no longer entire secret –
At length he sighed, pushed them into the secret compartment hidden beneath the locked drawer, and stood up. He would go to the club tonight. Entirely not with any particular design to find an agreeable fellow to have a little amusement with, merely to be among fellows of his own kind that did not frown upon him.
Sure 'twas an occasion when one particularly missed Elias Winch, that was so very entertaining. But it was ever exceeding gratifying to enter the club by its front door, even was that a very discreet entrance that did not advertize itself, and see the fine appointments of the place, the spacious hall and public rooms, the marble floors and staircase, the elegant carpets and furniture, and know it a place where he was accepted.
He went into the parlour and one of the footmen brought him a glass of gin – good Hollands geneva, none of your nasty poisonous blue ruin. Maurice eyed him up and down – 'twas an understood thing that the footmen were for hire, were they agreeable. But somehow the fellow did not appeal, his attentiveness was somewhat encroaching.
Sir Hartley Zellen entered the room and came to sit in the adjacent chair. Allard! Delighted! Sir Stockwell was saying, are some proposals for membership the committee should go deliberate upon – sure there is no urgency in the matter, but we should be about it.
He then cleared his throat and lowered his voice and said that he apprehended that his lady wife was taking advantage of Maurice’s discreet chamber again? He did not wish to pry into her affairs so long as she was happy, but hoped that she was not about any indiscretion in her choice.
Maurice concealed a smile. There was a taste Sir Hartley and his wife had in common, that he doubted they knew of: young men – not very young, not schoolboys, but usually under twenty-five years. Their sons’ younger contemporaries, these days. 'Twas Barty Wallace was her current favourite, a young fellow that combined his father’s quondam taste for pleasures with his mother’s ever level head. No cause at all for concern, he said. All very prudent.